D.C. Marijuana Efforts Move Forward

On the heels of a decriminalization bill, a Washington D.C. lawmaker moves to legalize marijuana in the District.

Washington DC skyline

Washington, DC now has bills available that would make marijuana use, possession, and buying legal, putting it on par with Washington State and Colorado. (Image Source: Flickr: Ed Uthman)

The District of Columbia, with all its faults, could use an excuse to light up a spliff.  After passing a medical marijuana bill in 2011, the nation's capital is pushing a more progressive agenda on weed, moving ever closer to legalizing and regulating the drug.  In July 2013, Washington DC Councilmember Tommy Wells of Ward 6 introduced a decriminalization bill.  Now, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso is moving a bill to legalize weed in DC, and regulate it under the same jurisdiction as alcohol.

In the midst of a larger national push to legalize marijuana after successes in the states of Washington and Colorado, Washington, DC has become a relatively important battleground.  As the nation's capital, Washington could serve as a true proving ground for legalization advocates, and a display of responsible policy on weed for federal lawmakers that remain hostile or on-the-fence about marijuana usage.

The D.C. Council bills come as local residents in the nation's capital show a huge amount of support for marijuana legalization and decriminalization.  Recent surveys show at least 60% support for regulating weed like alcohol, and 75% support for decriminalizing possession.  Councilmember Tommy Wells' bill would mean that D.C. Police would not be able to arrest anyone with up to an ounce of weed, while Councilmember Grosso's bill would make possession of small amounts weed legal, with a regulatory system put into place to ensure DC would receive tax money from weed purchases, giving authority to the DC Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration.

Of course, the problem with DC politics is that it is permanently entangled with Washington politics.  The final decision of any city bill is not in the hands of Mayor Vincent Gray or the DC Council, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner.  The Mayor of DC must send any bill that is passed to Congress for a review, which could last up to 60 days.  Either the Senate or the House of Representatives can pass a resolution in Congress that essentially vetoes the city bill, and the DC Council and Mayor would not be able to overrule the veto.  DC's medical marijuana law passed without objection by Congress in 2010, so there is hope that a more progressive bill would pass in the future.  But that remains uncertain at this point.